The Linguistic Bull in a China Shop

by David

June 7, 2017, 8:24 p.m.

Learning a foreign language is one of the most fun, frustrating, comical, discouraging, and triumphant experiences available. I know those adjectives go together about as well as a bull in a china shop, which is convenient because a lot of time that’s exactly what learning a foreign language is like. Stay with me, we’re going to take a closer look at this linguistic bull in a china shop:

1) He wants to be in the china shop:

                Look, bulls don’t just wander into china shops ok, he has a purpose in being there. Perhaps he’s good friends with the clerk, is trying to buy a friend a wedding gift, or is stopping to ask directions because he got lost and can’t find the metro station.

2) The bull had great intentions:

                Nobody, including bulls, wakes up in the morning and says, “I want to break as many fragile things as possible in a short amount of time.” Our friend, the bull, is likely a great appreciator of fine china. He likes the way it sparks and glistens and people treat it with such eloquence. Surely it is far from his hearts to desire to ruin such a beautiful phenomenon and upset the people who cherish it.

3) Mistakes were made:

                Nonetheless our poor friend, the bull, arrives at the unavoidable moment. Perhaps he got embarrassed and tried to back out too quickly. Maybe he sneezed. Or maybe, he just got downright upset and couldn’t control himself. Regardless of his purpose and good intentions, things get broken, people cry, and the bull leaves the shop in heaping rubble, still directionless and wedding gift-less.

Let’s just say I identify with the bull in many ways. Having the best intentions walking into coffee shops asking if a match is on tonight, only to realize I learned the wrong word for match, but wasn’t even using the proper wrong word and left a trail of confusion in my wake. For me, the fast track to becoming the linguistic bull in the china shop is anytime I try to use Arabic after 12am, which thankfully, in this culture, is about the time the social scene is in full swing. Words vanish from my mind, my accent crumbles, and I become to blubbering foreigner we’ll just leave alone in the corner to drink his tea.

                The part of the story we leave out though, is that the bull goes home, studies all about china shop etiquette and goes back the next day. Maybe this time he solidifies his friendship with the shop keeper, gets the wedding gift he’s been trying for weeks to buy, and maybe, just maybe, finds out where his long lost metro station is.

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